Face the challenges; focus on the opportunities. The theme for the 2010 annual Pork Industry Forum held March 4-6 in Kansas City, Mo., rang through each presentation

While bruised and battered from over two years of financial losses, the U.S. pork industry can be pleased with its survival, but must keep its attention focused on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The industry has survived the most difficult time in its history, yet it has never been more important for each U.S. pork producer to reach out in ways they perhaps have never done before.

The effort is critical to the industry. “Significant challenges still lie ahead,” says Don Butler, National Pork Producers Council president. His priorities were made clear. “We need every pork producer to complete his or her PQA Plus certification and complete their site assessment. If pork producers haven’t completed these steps, they need to.”

Butler stressed the importance of pork producers to speak out to consumers, neighbors as well as elected officials on behalf of the industry. “The voice of pork producers must be heard by members of Congress,” he said. “No one else is going to do it for us.”

The pork industry has been successful in helping deter unfavorable legislation and in encouraging pork purchases of $250 million by USDA when they were needed most. The agreement by Russia announced Friday to reinstate imports of U.S. pork also was cited as an important accomplishment.

Butler says U.S. pork producers have benefited from efforts by the industry’s two national groups. Through efforts of the NPPC as well as the National Pork Board, the priorities of the pork industry have been advanced. “While the two organizations have separate objectives, I’m very happy to report that the working relationship between the NPB and the NPPC is better than I’ve ever seen.”

While the U.S. pork industry has met critical challenges such as H1N1 influenza and increased production costs, it is the U.S. energy policy that presents the most significant challenge. “It has resulted in permanent, higher pork production costs and will lead to higher food prices and a higher cost of living for us all,” says Butler.

Some pork producers were forced from the business during the last two year because of these challenges. “We may lose more before this is over,” says Butler. “But we are the most efficient pork producers in the world which should give us hope and confidence. We will get through this and there will be brighter days ahead.”

Butler says that the U.S. pork industry functions in a very different world today than it has in the past. However, pork remains the protein of choice around the world. “And, as far as I can see, the most efficient place in the world to raise pigs, is right here in the United States.”

To maintain the leading position for the U.S. pork industry, we must get stronger, says Butler. To do that, the industry must carry its message to Washington, whether it’s animal welfare, food safety or increasing energy costs. NPPC’s LEADR program provides an opportunity for every producer to fulfill that objective.

Producing food for a hungry world is a noble effort. To sustain that effort, Butler says pork producers must be visible and vocal. Producers must take every opportunity to tell others what they do.

U.S. pork producers are innovative and creative. It’s what has made their survival possible through these trying times. “We know how to fight; we know how to win.”